How Do We Calculate SAP If We Converted To Pass/Fail Grades Due To Coronavirus?

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This AskRegs Knowledgebase Q&A was updated on December 7, 2020 to clarify what is previously existing satisfactory academic progress (SAP) guidance and what is a COVID-related flexibility. This update is not a change in NASFAA's previous guidance.

Scenario: Due to the impact of COVID-19, our institution has developed a policy to give students the option to receive a pass/fail grade for a term impacted by the COVID-19 qualifying emergency.

Answer: The school decides whether it will include pass/fall courses in the calculation of a student’s grade point average (GPA or qualitative component) when performing the SAP evaluation. Typically, pass/fail courses are not factored into the qualitative component, but the courses do count toward the quantitative measure (pace of progression). This is not new and will continue after the qualifying emergency ends.

The May 15, 2020 Electronic Announcement broadens the school's authority to make changes to its existing SAP policy during the qualifying emergency:

"Students may be permitted to take some or all classes on a pass/fail basis. It is also permissible for an institution to administratively determine that all coursework in a term will be evaluated on a pass/fail basis. An institution may modify its policies restricting the number of courses students may take on a pass/fail basis to accommodate the national emergency due to the coronavirus. Where an institution has no existing policy allowing pass/fail grades, it may adopt one, even if only temporarily. Courses taken on a pass/fail basis count as attempts for SAP purposes. Generally, pass/fail grades are not factored into a student’s GPA. However, an institution may follow its own policy with respect to the effect of pass/fail grades on GPA."

This is consistent with the U.S. Department of Education's (ED's) previously existing guidance found in the 2019 FSA Training Conference session, Understanding Your Satisfactory Academic Progress Policy. How pass/fail grades impact students must be addressed in your SAP policy. For students with a mix of pass/fail courses and letter grades, all courses would count in the quantitative measure. However, courses for which the student received a pass/fail grade would be included in the qualitative component only if the school’s policy indicates if and how the pass/fail grades should be included. Likewise, our understanding is that those pass/fail grades would remain static in future SAP evaluations for those students; no GPA would be generated for those pass/fail courses.

Additional Flexibility: That having been said, there is an alternative under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) for courses the student does not complete, including pass/fail courses the student does not complete. Per the CARES Act, "[I]n determining whether a student is maintaining satisfactory academic progress…an institution of higher education may, as a result of a qualifying emergency, exclude from the quantitative component of the calculation any attempted credits that were not completed by such student without requiring an appeal by such student.” This is an option your school may choose to utilize, though it is not a requirement. If you exercise this option and if you don't assign grades to pass/fail courses, this effectively means you would completely ignore pass/fail courses that the student does not complete in your SAP evaluations for the affected term(s). Whatever you decide, it must be documented in your SAP policy. See AskRegs Q&A, How Do We Treat COVID-19 Related Withdrawals In Our SAP Calculation?, for more on this alternative.

Per the August 21, 2020 Electronic Announcement, the COVID-19 related flexibilities noted above apply through the end of the payment period that includes December 31, 2020 or the end of the payment period that includes the end date for the federally declared qualifying emergency related to COVID-19, whichever occurs later.

Notes:

AskRegs Q&As represent NASFAA's understanding of regulatory and compliance issues. They are FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY. While NASFAA believes AskRegs Q&As are accurate and factual, they have not been reviewed or approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). If you should need written confirmation of AskRegs information for audit or program review purposes, please contact your ED School Participation Division. NASFAA shall not be liable for technical or editorial errors or omissions contained herein; nor for incidental or consequential damages resulting from the furnishing, performance, or use of this material.